It may surprise you that until recently, delicious little soft tacos of seared chicken and roasted peppers didn’t play much of a role in Mexico’s taquerías. Boneless breasts from the good-size free-range chickens that country is known for just don’t benefit from quick griddle-searing or grilling. But now that a good number of the toothsome barnyard chickens have been replaced by smaller, tenderer birds, chicken tacos are giving the classic beef ones a run for their money. It doesn’t hurt that folks see them as a healthy alternative—without any sacrifice of flavor.
A Couple of Riffs on Chicken Tacos: Grilling the chicken breasts is a delicious alternative to pan-searing them, but you’ll miss the lime-garlic glaze. To solve that problem, I suggest you add the lime juice and garlic to the onions when they’re browned, cooking until the liquid has reduced to a glaze. (You may want to have a little extra lime and garlic for marinating the chicken breasts before grilling.) If chicken tenders are more easily available than the breasts, use them; cooking time will be shorter. Beef skirt or flank steak works well here too. And, of course, any of the large fleshy chiles (from Anaheims to red bell peppers) can stand in for the poblanos.
Brining for Even Better Chicken: At Frontera Grill, we use free-range chicken breasts, which might taste tough to some of our guests if we did not brine them. (Besides promoting tenderness, brining can help make ordinary grocery-store chicken breasts moister and more flavorful too.) To brine 4 chicken breasts (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds total), mix together 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons Morton kosher salt and 2 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. Slip in the chicken breasts, cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the brine and dry on paper towels; the chicken breasts are ready to use.